• NHSE looking to funnel extra cash to mental health sector
  • Four out of five mental health trusts say capital needs are between £4m and £20m
  • Sir Simon also says he does not know what next NHS capital budget will be

NHS England is looking to funnel additional cash to the mental health sector for capital investments next year.

Speaking at an NHS Confederation event yesterday, NHSE chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said he wanted to use unused cash from national funding pots, such as the financial recovery fund, to help eliminate dormitory wards and address maintenance problems.

It is unclear how much this could be, because NHS England and NHS Improvement have still not published a financial performance report for the third quarter of 2019-20. But judging by previous years, it could be hundreds of millions.

Sir Simon said the government’s promised multiyear capital budget for the NHS was unlikely to be announced in next week’s Budget.

He added: “For the multiyear investment proposition across mental health and everything else I think we’ll probably have to wait until the spending review.

“We’ve obviously been saying very clearly part of the equation needs to be dealing with the 350 dormitory wards, dealing with a lot of the backlog maintenance and frankly new ways of delivering care in mental health. We are completely on that.”

He said he was speaking to chief financial officer Julian Kelly about making sure mental health trusts are given some additional investment in the financial year starting in April.

He said: “I’m making no promises on this but I’ve spoken to Julian Kelly about this today and we normally, given the way trust financial incentives work each year, we have to make an allocative decision on unused FRF and so the question I’ve asked Julian to think about is, if we disproportionately put some of that into the mental health sector, would it provide the cash against which [providers] are going to be able to make investments next year.

“I don’t yet have an answer as to whether that will or won’t be a mechanism to give a bit of extra lift but I’m looking at it.”

A potential difficulty with this is that even if extra cash is funnelled to mental health trusts, the national spending limit for capital projects may prevent them from spending it.

In the past, leftover monies from the FRF and provider sustainability fund have been distributed under various mechanisms, largely determined purely by trusts’ headline financial performance. This has proved controversial as it has led to huge extra payments to some of the NHS’ wealthiest trusts.

Sir Simon cited recent NHS Providers survey data which found four in five mental health trusts estimated their capital needs in the next financial year were between £4m and £20m.

He said: “In aggregate that obviously amounts to something but at the individual level is not so overwhelmingly off-puttingly enormous to think nothing can be done about it.”

While the majority of mental health trusts were able to balance their books in 2018-19, the NHS Providers survey, published last month, stated it was “vital” any decision the government makes on NHS capital funding ensures “the mental health sector receives its fair share of capital investment”.

Sir Simon also hinted at frustration that, with only three weeks before the new financial year, he did not know what the NHS capital Budget was going to be for 2020-21.

He said: “The fact of the matter is as we sit here today I don’t know what the NHS capital budget is going to be for three weeks’ time which is a kind of interesting position to be in given that by definition capital is there for long-term investment”